I imagine that most of y'all who have grown accustomed to watching this team play a certain way were thinking like I was at halftime: The Knicks, down 12 to the Cavaliers at the break and having been down by as much as 17, were probably going to make a run, cut it to single digits and get the crowd excited, then squander their momentum on a couple silly plays and let the game slip away, leaving us to grumble and bicker for three straight off days. That's what the January Knicks would have done (I keep finding myself typing the phrase "January Knicks" with my lip curled).
But these Knicks have something that those guys didn't-- a bench-- and a ferocious second unit turned what would have been a maddening loss into a scintillating, highlight-filled blowout win. After a first half of miserable shooting and creaky defensive rotations, the Knick starters began to force turnovers and eat into the deficit. They pushed out to a lead heading into the fourth quarter, then watched the second unit party patrol come in and just blow the game open. Baron Davis and Steve Novak headlined a devastating penetrate-and-kick game while J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Jared Jeffries stormed the Cavs on defense to force more bad shots and turnovers and spark transition offense. It was, as LatrellSprewell said in the thread, the best second half ever. They won that half 71-42. Pretty cool.
Take the jump for some individual notes 'n' things.
- Two new things in this one: 1. The MSG center court finally sports the Knicks' newer, more silvery logo, which I like. 2. Clyde wasn't willing to return from St. Croix for one measly game, so the booth tonight was Mike Breen and Bernard King. King's voice annoys some people, which I get, but I kind of like him. Really, anybody who bungles people's names is fine by me (Clyde adds an extra "R" to everything, Bernard just switches out vowels with abandon. "Jared" = "Jeh-rad").
- Jeremy Lin quietly-- quietly!-- had a lovely 19-point, 13-assist, one-turnover (!) game. His inability to stick with Kyrie Irving (nothing to be ashamed of) early demanded some Knick help rotations that just weren't gonna happen, but his offense was solid. The Cavs trapped him early, so he made quick bail-out passes and let someone like Carmelo Anthony operate from the weak side. Later, he got more aggressive driving to the rim (pretty sure none of his two-pointers came outside the paint, but ESPN shot charts aren't being helpful right now) and made some gorgeous entry passes from out on the perimeter. Irving or not, this really was some of the worst defense we've seen Lin play-- several blow-bys, a few silly rotations off of good shooters, and a couple costly fouls-- but he made up for it with an efficient and very productive offensive outing. Splendid recovery from a dismal last game and a very busy All-Star break.
- I talked all about the bench before the jump and led with Lin because that's just how my mind works now, but Tyson Chandler gets that game ball. Good lord. He managed 10 and 8 in the first half without even playing that well, then, despite putting up less numbers, absolutely dominated the second half. He stopped everything. Knowing that the Cleveland guards were quick and that help was rarely on the way, he just went into TYSON VS. mode and took on everybody. Chandler leaped into passing lanes to terrify ballhandlers, then recovered with gusto to stop EVERY shot near the rim. All of them. Chandler can't always cover for Amar'e and/or Novak's poor help defense, but when he's at his liveliest, he could play in a lineup with Amar'e, Novak, and two toddlers in strollers without giving up points. Shit gets absurd sometimes.
- Providing a decent replica of that defense, plus some wonderful screens, hustle plays, and 3-3 shooting (!?): Jared Jeffries. Nice game, Jared.
- Carmelo Anthony looked more like himself in this one. He did a terrific job of positioning himself on the weak side and sealing his man to create a lane (can one technically "seal" on the perimeter? I've never actually played sports before.) so that when Lin got attacked and moved the ball, Melo had a nice lane to the basket. Several lay-ups got laid and fouls got called because of that approach. A couple times, Melo just punished Omri Casspi in isolation, but he didn't try that shit too, too often (and when he did, the crowd got all grouchy). It was a well balanced attack, I thought. A 22-point, four-assist, five-rebound line is juuuust right.
- Save for the final minutes of the game when he and the rest of the starters all returned and felt obligated to match the energy of the second unit, Amar'e Stoudemire didn't look so hot. He missed every one of his jumpers, including some wide-ass open ones, and, on the other end, either fouled folks or just didn't make a play at all. Honestly, though, those last couple minutes-- during which I thought he defended with some nerve and finished a play above the rim-- were somewhat encouraging. I'd rather he miss good, open looks than fall into that heedless, foul-baiting dribble-drive isolation nonsense that we've seen in his very worst stretches.
- J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, however, were both very solid. Neither could hit a jumper, but both finished some spectacular plays at the rim (I'll post videos in the morning) and mixed shit up on defense to force turnovers and get transition going (Shump had 3 steals). So, the Knicks got production from a position even when the starter faltered! Imagine that!
- Baron Davis had by far his best game as a Knick (against his former team, no less). He did a terrific job of keeping his dribble, rumbling into the paint, and kicking out to the perimeter (and even finishing a play or two at the basket). Davis had eight assists in just 15 minutes, many of which went to...
- ...Steve Novak. Good lord, Steve. After coming out a little cold in the first half, Novak went SUPERNOVAK in the second. He drained five of six threes after the break and had nine of his 17 points in the third quarter alone. Lin played well, Melo played well, and Chandler was the game's MVP, but only Novak had me pounding on the floor and squealing at my television like an insane tree-person. What a half.
- What a half.
- Fun exchange: Jeffries miserably botched an extra pass to a wide-open, cutting Shumpert, but on the very next play, Shump stole the inbound pass and blew a layup, only to have Jeffries tip it in.
- No Josh Harrellson tonight, but considering the size of that second unit, I'm inclined to believe there will, at the very least, be a place for him against teams with bigger, better benches.
- Kyrie Irving: Good at sports. Damn. Tristan Thompson looked solid as well, but Kyrie is a goddamn terror.
- Mike Breen just likes food. It doesn't matter which chef prepares it. He does not, however, like Van Halen. But what if Mr. Halen himself offered to cook Breen a meal?
- Breen's a pro, by the way: He was going on about Tyson Chandler's wrist injury, then segued beautifully into the play in front of him, which actually finished in a way he didn't expect. It went like this:
Breen: [talking about injury]
(Chandler rises up for a big dunk)
Breen: ...although he has finishes like THAT...
(Chandler draws a foul but misses the dunk)
Breen: "...which are a little tough for him right now".
- I bet I've used the phrase "force turnovers" a lot in this recap, but let's be fair and acknowledge that a lot of Cleveland's turnovers didn't require any forcing. They were totally consensual. Often, Cavs just dribbled the ball off their own body parts or threw it at one another's non-catching body parts. Some of that was the result of vigorous Knick defense, but there were quite a few unforced errors.
- 28-42 free throw shooting. I'd very much like for this not to be a thing, but it's becoming a thing.
- Baron Davis loves those wrist bungee stretching things. I even saw him trying to cheer with his hands above his head with the cords still attached to his wrists. I guess that counts as a "rep"?
- The Cavs had eight of their 17 turnovers in the third quarter.
- "We want No-vak" chants in the fourth! My word!
And that is all for now. I'll probably post in the morning with some videos/snapshots/links/extra thoughts (I think I'm gonna start doing more of those leftover posts on mornings after eventful games), but for now, it's time to celebrate and do dances.